To Chance with Hell (Planescape)
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The Faction War: Introduction
Newcomers to the planes often view the factions as planar-based organizations. A canny prime might call them cults, and they’re not far off. Factions are formed around some widely held belief – some philosophy alluring enough to unite people across multiple planes. Especially in the Outer Planes, where belief is often a tangible force, factions hold a significant amount of power due largely to their size and the strength of their ideals. The beliefs of a large group can influence reality, changing the multiverse to suit their mindset, after all. Fervent believers gain abilities related to their perspective and a profound action by a great number of like minds could cause the nature of an entire plane to change. Thus, most factions espouse a viewpoint that is also a path to either power, understanding of the multiverse, or simply the meaning of life. Of course, most of the factions aren’t content to sit back and argue the finer points of belief; rather, they are devoted to convincing the rest of the multiverse to see things their way. Planars that have some grievance against the factions might call them “philosophers with clubs”, and the truth of that statement is many of the factions are willing to do whatever it takes to prove that they‘re right. None have made a decisive victory, but competition for the hearts and minds of the planes has always been fierce, and those that stop trying are often lost under the weight of more infectious viewpoints.
Most factions act as a network of people to support those that hold the same ideals, providing strongholds or hangouts that any faction member can call home. This provides members with contacts, resources, and even protection they likely couldn’t achieve on their own. Individual members are likewise expected to provide mutual support for fellow factioneers. After all, the multiverse has always been filled with forces that want their viewpoint universally accepted. There isn’t much room for factions that can’t hold their own in the quiet war for the minds of the planes; if a faction can’t stand up and spread the word or fight for what they stand for, their days are numbered. Not all factions have had to battle for their existence, however. Some simply have goals, ideas, or beliefs that are so universally appealing across the planes that they fail to vanish, even if their members seem apathetic to their cause.
Over time, the number of factions and even the very definition of the word “faction” have changed drastically, much to the frustration of those that seek to define these planar groups. What you’ll find here is the most recent description of what a faction is and what it means to be a member of one. Until recently, the center of faction activity and recruiting was in Sigil. Even now, the majority of Cagers are faction members of some sort, and planars across the multiverse are beginning to sign up in increasing numbers as the factions strengthen their influence abroad. Joining a faction normally equates to improvement in a body’s life, but the web of politics and intrigue the factions spin across the multiverse is enough to catch anyone in the mix. Proper understanding of the extent of faction conflict can only be truly understood by examining their history.
Brief History of the Factions
Many factions are quite old – dating back centuries or even millennia. If there’s folk that can remember a time that they didn’t shake the planes, they haven’t been doing a lot of talking. Over time, various factions have come and gone, splintered and merged, risen to fame and fallen to infamy. The primary target of most factions’ influence has been Sigil, due to its access to virtually every corner of the multiverse. If one could control the City of Doors, they would then be in a position to influence all of the planes at once. Failing that, Sigil still enabled the factions to spread their message to the numerous planars and primes moving through the city every day.
Over six hundred years ago, there were roughly fifty-two factions in Sigil. Few were as organized or as large as the factions today, but they were powerful enough to engage in the kriegstanz. The kriegstanz was a war, both overt and covert, to undermine every other faction and influence the minds of Sigil. The conflict was so intense that fierce battles became common in the streets, catching both factioneers and bystanders in the crossfire. With several factions espousing fanatical or opposing viewpoints, it seemed the war wouldn’t end until one side managed to wipe out all the opposition. However, it was Sigil’s overseer, the Lady of Pain, that brought an abrupt end to the conflict, making her will known by sending her servants, the dabus, to each faction with a message:
“By the order of the Lady of Pain, there will be but fifteen factions in Sigil. Organize thy colors in a fortnight – or die.”
After two weeks of turmoil the number of factions within Sigil had dropped to fifteen. Some fled Sigil, while others dissolved entirely. The stubborn died horribly, presumably at the hand of the Lady of Pain, indirectly or otherwise. Over ten thousand died, and it seemed the kriegstanz had finally ended with what would become known as the Great Upheaval. It had simply entered a new phase, however, as the remaining factions gradually took control of Sigil’s institutions and competed for control of the city.
Veterans of the Upheaval
The fifteen factions widely believed to have survived the Great Upheaval include the Athar, Believers of the Source, Bleak Cabal, Discordant Opposition, Doomguard, Dustmen, Fated, Fraternity of Order, Free League, Revolutionary League, Sign of One, Society of Sensation, and the Transcendent Order. The Mercykillers would form from the unification of two other factions during the Upheaval – the Sodkillers and the Sons of Mercy. The Discordant Opposition would eventually become known as the Xaositects, and the Harmonium later moved to Sigil from the Prime Material Plane. The more paranoid recorders of Sigil history, however, often question this list. After all, the exact events of the Great Upheaval were poorly recorded at best, as the chaos and panic that occurred prevented anyone from gaining a clear perspective of what transpired. Some claim a few factions, such as the Fated, Sign of One, or Society of Sensation were actually more recent than is popularly believed, and that they displaced other factions after the Upheaval itself. Others think the Harmonium existed on the planes long before its recorded arrival, and engineered the downfall of some predecessor. Though it seems unlikely, these rumors and suppositions help underpin the skepticism regarding the accuracy of even more reliable sources such as the Fraternity of Order or the Society of Sensation.
Many died during the Great Upheaval, but even more died afterwards, some by the initial conflicts between the surviving factions, and others through more mysterious causes such as diseases and disappearances. Many of the now displaced factions (thereafter called “sects”) struck out against the entrenched factions within the city, making the city’s already difficult transition more so. Though it‘s widely agreed that the original kriegstanz was worse, some revisionists believe that the Great Upheaval actually caused more deaths than it supposedly saved. Whatever the case, it‘s unanimously agreed that, for good or ill, the Great Upheaval occurred in line with the Lady’s wishes, and that whatever goal she had was fulfilled. Indeed, Sigil would become much more stable over the next century, gaining a structure that both served the needs of the city and enabled the factions to continue the kriegstanz, albeit more covertly. However, this new order would only last for a little over six hundred years. Though the current state of affairs would come to be taken for granted, tension was steadily building and things were in for a change – and in a big way.
The Faction War
Roughly five years ago, the factions had devolved to the point where they could no longer exist in harmony. Though Sigil had been running efficiently for centuries, hatred fueled by the never-ending cycle of quiet conflict had set the scene for another full-blown war. Some factions were forcefully undermining other factions, while others broke Sigil’s laws on a daily basis. What was once idealism had become well-honed fanaticism, and the balance of power shifted back and forth like a swinging pendulum. Old grudges had simmered for centuries, and it was only a matter of time before people stopped being civil and decided to settle things the bloody way. It wouldn’t have taken much to spark a war, but what Sigil got was several such sparks only days apart, and soon Sigil was gripped in a civil war that rocked its very foundations.
Everything started with the Harmonium and Doomguard, as both groups suspected each other of preparing an attack. What truth there was to the rumors is hard to say, even today, but the tension such hearsay caused was quite real. When Pentar, the factol of the Doomguard, suddenly vanished, the Doomguard blamed the Harmonium and Society of Sensation, shouting accusations loudly across Sigil. The Harmonium in turn accused the Doomguard of violating their ancient edict against sparking a war, and demanded the Doomguard relinquish the Armory to the Harmonium. Naturally, the Doomguard balked, but it would be weeks later before the conflict would come to arms.
Soon thereafter, the varied leaders of the Free League and Revolutionary League would come together and accused the Harmonium of wrongdoing, though the Anarchists also added the Mercykillers and Fraternity of Order to their accusations. At the request of Nilesia, the Mercykillers were put under the control of Duke Rowan Darkwood, factol of the Fated, for reasons that remain a mystery. Most agree that Nilesia was somehow duped, though the exact circumstances are still hotly debated. In any case, Nilesia vanished soon thereafter. Many Mercykillers refused to serve Darkwood, while others were simply bewildered by the turn of events. The faction began to splinter, falling into disarray, and within only days it would cease to be an effective force in planar politics. Meanwhile the Doomguard began to gather allies, distributing weapons in order to build an army against the Harmonium.
Factols kept vanishing – both Ambar Vergrove and Darius “ascended” shortly thereafter, at least according to the Godsmen and Signers at the time. Terrance of the Athar also disappeared, and that faction brought suspicion against both the Sign of One and the local churches. Karan would be captured by the Harmonium and subsequently vanish, bringing the Xaositects to the side of the “Enemies of Peace” as the Harmonium called them. Shortly thereafter the Hardheads‘ factol, Sarin, would die in an Anarchist assassination. Only levelheaded leadership in the Harmonium prevented a riot, and the Hardheads began to plan an attack on the Doomguard. Finally, the Mercykillers split into its two predecessors, becoming the Sons of Mercy and the Sodkillers. A few diehard Mercykillers remained, but they failed to reorganize into a faction proper. The Sons of Mercy would go on to release those they thought unjustly imprisoned in Sigil’s prisons. It’s said that a number of those released were killers or worse, though the Martyrs have protested that they were not responsible for their release to this day.
That same day, Anarchists performed a vicious attack on a Sensate bar that prompted the Sensates to swiftly ally with the “Oppressors of Sigil”. Meanwhile, the Doomguard sought allies with the Bleak Cabal. The Bleakers, true to their nature, refused and opted for neutrality in the upcoming conflict. The Free League, on the other hand, eagerly jumped at the chance for an alliance against the Harmonium, seeking revenge for years of oppression. Eventually the Sons of Mercy allied with the
Sensates and the Harmonium, while the Sodkillers, looking for an excuse to fight someone, sided with the Doomguard. Open war was imminent. The final catalyst hit when a Xaositect slew Factol Hashkar of the Fraternity of Order.
The first battle of the war was known as the Battle of the Armory. Giving no formal warning, the “Oppressors of Sigil” staged an assault on the Armory. The “Enemies of Peace” mounted a defense, but were eventually overwhelmed due to their lack of organization. Several backfiring Doomguard weapons ended up destroying the Armory, and the Sinkers suffered massive losses in the ensuing destruction. Still, it was far from a decisive victory, and sizable losses occurred on both side. Soon thereafter, the Fraternity of Order, Sign of One, and Believers of the Source allied with the Harmonium and the other “Oppressors of Sigil”, while the Athar joined the Doomguard and the other “Enemies of Peace”.
Things rapidly deteriorated as the Indeps and the Chaosmen staged a counterattack on the Civic Festhall. However, upon receiving prior warning, the Hardheads, Martyrs, and Sensates were able to build their defenses in the Lower Ward. The battle that ensued there remained a stalemate until tanar’ri forces began pouring into the city, believing this was their chance to take Sigil finally. Almost immediately, a baatezu force arrived to fight the tanar’ri in response. There was no victor of this conflict – all of the forces simply lost numbers, with no appreciable gain or loss, the only exception being a surprise attack by Sodkillers and some tanar’ri on the Festhall, which led to the slaughter of many holed up inside. Similarly, a much smaller conflict erupted between the Lost and the Signers, which resulted in the destruction of the Shattered Temple, but the Athar were nonetheless able to drive the Signers from their base.
Suddenly, at the height of the chaos, Sigil‘s portals ceased working. Riots for food and water immediately began. The less stable threw themselves off the edges of Sigil, tumbling away to destinations unknown. While the fiendish invasion was cutoff, it almost seemed that the panic and fury of Sigil’s citizenry would destroy the city anyway. However, the sudden appearance of nearly every member of the Transcendent Order brought relative peace to the city as they worked to calm the populace and aid them in their time of need. Anarchists, however, in one final act of retribution against the Bleak Cabal for remaining neutral, infiltrated the Gatehouse and freed many of the inmates there.
The war ended without any more ado, with no real winners, no new rulers of Sigil. Too spent to continue fighting, and not driven enough to truly consider mutual destruction, the factions signed a truce. It was another bold step by the Lady of Pain, however, that truly ended the Faction War. Once again, her dabus issued an ultimatum:
“This city tolerates your faction no longer. Abandon it or die.”
Though vague, there was no disputing Her Serenity’s words. The factions left the city’s institutions they had maintained for centuries, leaving private and public organizations to rise to take their place. Some buildings that once served as faction headquarters were taken by private entrepreneurs, while others were made public facilities. The Athar, Doomguard, Fated, Fraternity of Order, Harmonium, and the Revolutionary League all chose to leave Sigil and regroup on their respective planes. Meanwhile the Bleak Cabal, Dustmen, Free League, Society of Sensation, Transcendent Order, and the Xaositects simply renounced their faction status while changing little about their beliefs or activities. The Believers of the Source and the Sign of One decided to merge into the Mind’s Eye, and moved the majority of their faction to the Outlands. Finally, the Sodkillers and the Sons of Mercy, under the guise of guilds, both took it upon themselves to fill the void in Sigil’s law enforcement. The portals reopened, but with their destinations and keys changed entirely. This became known as the Tempest of Portals, and with it, the factions left Sigil.
In the aftermath, it became abundantly clear that more factols were missing than previously assumed – in fact, Factol Rhys of the Transcendent Order is the only survivor. Rumors began spreading that factol Rowan Darkwood of the Fated‘s manipulations were responsible for starting the war. Much of the city became consumed with “faction fever” as Cagers tried to gather as much information on the departed factions as possible. Various conspiracy theories began to circulate blaming different forces for the disappearances of the factols, including Darkwood, Rhys, the Daughters of Light, the Eschaton, and the Lady of Pain herself. In retrospect, most assume the Lady to be the most likely suspect. After all, she’s the only one with enough power and seeming reason to have done so, but ultimately there’s no real evidence to support this theory. The disappearance of the factols remains, for the most part, a mystery.